One day last week, while on errands, I made a stop at the local Jewel grocery store. I was probably driving a little too fast when I pulled into a parking spot in between a couple shopping cart corrals.
As I unbuckled my seat belt, my mind was fixated on remembering my plastic tote bags from the trunk. (The local stores started charging 7 cents a bag in February.)
Trying not to kiss the blue metal station wagon door next to my car with my own car door, I looked up and saw a large dog with a cone around his head hanging out of the open back seat window.
I started laughing then I felt a well of empathy rising inside of me.
The sight of a dog looking so human because of his circumstances was funny. In that moment, I also felt surprisingly gifted with an image that could serve as a trigger for PERSPECTIVE.
I generally think of gratitude in terms of experiences that make feel connected to things I love or value. I don’t like to think about gratitude as a game of comparisons.
For instance, I don’t believe it serves parents to tell their kids how lucky they are because they are not working in a sweatshop in Malaysia. I believe there are so many things to be grateful about in your actual experience that you don’t need to muster up the feeling by reminding yourself that someone has it worse.
But at that moment, while I was opening my car door and saw this slightly bewildered, slightly bored gentle giant of a dog, I felt very fortunate. I thought It must be awful to be locked up in the back seat of a car unable to scratch your head!
Wow, the image gave me plenty of perspective. In the scheme of things, not having the basic freedom of mobility and not understanding why seems like a incredibly disheartening experience.
The expression on the dog’s face said it all. It was funny because I could imagine it being worn on a middle-aged man or woman. The dog was somehow more than human. His feelings were so real and transparent.
I also smiled in the moment because the sight was unexpected.
I guess the words human, humor, and humility are connected.
I thought about the many times in my life when I would make a slightly dark observation or twist a phrase into something close to it’s intended meaning but make it much more memorable because it didn’t fit in a typical way.
That impulse has helped me find perspective. Laughing or appreciating the irony of a situation has helped me detach and not feel like a victim.
To me, something can be funny simply because it is unexpected. I get a lot of pleasure from hearing in the flow remarks in the course of an unscripted conversation.
Humility is often triggered in a similar way.
When I realize I can’t will someone to return a text to me any faster or can’t dictate the weather.… lot’s of things remind me that I can’t control everything. Rather than be upset, I recognize how these experiences create or sort of gateway for perspective.
I face my share of disappointments. They are real and deserve to be recognized. But, in general, I love to be surprised.
Those surprising sights and remarks are often funny. Being thrown off kilter can remind you of the vulnerability you share with EVERY HUMAN BEING (and dogs too).
Smiling while feeling empathy for a cone-protected Fido, locked in the backseat of a station wagon, is no small thing.